“Mmmmmmmm…” Sonja told me casually, “I don’t like it as much as the first one.” Entranced in the movie with a rocks glass of rye bourbon in my hand, I barely gave the statement any thought. I had poured Sonja a glass of wine from a bottle I loved, using our Coravin as she had requested. After all, after the bottle we had shared at dinner, she only wanted a single additional glass to end the evening — why open an entire bottle?
I have long touted the Coravin as a revolution in wine drinking — and so has the company. Founded in 2011, the company’s ads are impossible to miss (I’ve even seen them on my blog), and their sleek product, which I first saw used at Peju winery in Napa back in 2014, has plenty of curb appeal. For the unacquainted, the idea is that instead of uncorking a bottle of high end wine, you use a Coravin. The device, under your guidance, inserts a surgical needle into the cork, and removes wine directly into your glass while simultaneously replacing it with argon gas, which is heavier than oxygen. The wine supposedly never touches oxygen, thereby never aging, and you can get back into the bottle weeks, months, or years later for a second helping at your convenience. Cool concept. So cool, in fact, that in the approximately eighteen months or so that I’ve had one, I’ve amassed a collection of nearly a hundred bottles of Coravined wine.
The wine I poured for Sonja was one I’d opened some eight months earlier, and one I like a lot. The bottle she’d had a glass from before had been opened normally by removing the cork. Nothing scientific to observe here, as they were different wines. That said, they were both really excellent wines as well. Like I said, I barely thought about this at all until now. But now that I am, I can’t seem to stop.
Sonja left on a business trip Monday morning, so I’m single parenting again this week, a ritual for building empathy and patience. Truth be told, I kind of like having the kids to myself, at least once in a while. When I got them from daycare yesterday, I found that Sonja had decked them out in their Chiefs gear (did you see that game?!) and I was grateful. I picked them up, took them home, and made them pasta with meatballs for dinner. And while I did, I sipped at a glass of wine. There was only one problem. When I had removed the bottle from the collection of Coravined wines in my cellar, a bottle I really love and was eager to have another glass of, I found that mold had grown atop the cork, and that wine seemed to be seeping from the hole where I had once inserted a surgical needle.
Disturbed, I pulled the cork and sipped at the wine. It was… fine. Just fine. It was dark and murky and tight, and over time it opened up a bit and in fact became quite enjoyable. Yet I remained bothered. Was this the wine I remembered? Had it evolved or devolved as wine so naturally does in time? Or had it been damaged? On the nose were hints of oxidation, but nothing like that on the palate, and again with patience, it started to taste more like what I remembered, what I wanted it to be. Whether or not it ever got back to its original state, at this point I’ll never know.
Upon closer inspection, I found that many bottles, maybe one in ten, had this same problem. My cellar is imperfect, I’ll grant. It’s quite moist, which isn’t bad for corks and is far better than the alternative, but nevertheless accounts for some degree of mildew in this corner or that one. I decided there was only one way to find out if this was damaging the wine. I had to drink it all.
The next bottle I opened was a 2013 Palmaz Cab Sauv, a monster truck of a wine that I remember well. The last time I’d dropped the needle into this bottle was in December of 2017. What would it be like? I pulled the cork and over time it retuned to more or less what it once had been… but was it less? And if so, how much? The questions lingered; I couldn’t get them out of my mind.
This isn’t the only fault in a Coravin, of course, if in fact this can be blamed on the device at all. A Coravin also doesn’t work on synthetic corks, screw caps, or other stoppers. Sure, you might argue, it won’t work on boxed wines either, but the truth is some truly terrific wines come in screw caps these days, and discounting them because they lack porous Irish wood stoppers is little more than snobbery. Furthermore, there’s the cost involved. One of my favorite bottles of wine is a Smith-Madrone Riesling, a wine that I could buy nearly a case of for the cost of one Coravin. What’s more, the argon gas capsules are expensive as well, about ten bucks a pop, and run out quickly.
The more I pondered my Coravin, the third most used mechanized toy in my life next to my classic Jeep Wrangler and my electric tooth brush, the more I realized that perhaps I had been in love with the idea of her, more so than truly in love with her. Had I jumped on a bandwagon? Was I merely attracted to the discussions I had with other wine lovers about how great our Coravins were? Heck, were we even talking about wine anymore, or were we just talking about what we used to pour it into our glass?
I cleaned every inch of the kitchen over the past few days, hoping it will stay that way for when Sonja arrives home Friday evening. Not wanting to dirty it, I took the kids out to eat at a barbecue place that we used to stop at a lot. The owner used to greet me, but I didn’t know the people there tonight, and my Amber Bock was a little stale. The servers were pleasant, but they were blasting Rhianna far too loud. Like my Coravin, tonight the place felt a bit overpriced and rather dissatisfying.
When we got home, I let the kids play, changed diapers, and put them to bed. Then I tidied up some more, packed their bag for tomorrow, and grabbed yet another Coravined bottle and pulled the cork. I sipped at the vaguely familiar notes of black currant and raspberry, oak and earthy loam. I knew this wine, knew her well. I had a bottle last weekend with fiends, and have another case downstairs in the cellar. I tasted this wine from the barrel. I know this wine. And to me, at least tonight, something is missing. It’s sort of like that fourth date with the super-hottie where you come in guns blazing expecting to pick up where you left off and, for some reason, the chemistry is gone. Maybe this wine’s ex-boyfriend called her and tonight she’s confused. Maybe it’s just that time of the month (an expression here used in reference to the effect of the lunar calendar on the taste of wine — look it up before you call me a chauvinist). Maybe we were just never as good together as I wanted us to be.
Therein lies the heart of the issue, though the issue isn’t really about wine at all. Is a Coravin a great idea, or is it thought to be a great idea because so many of us want it to be one? In 2018, there’s nothing more than wild conjecture to suggest that argon gas can preserve wine for more than seven years, and besides, we all know most corks are only rated to ten years. (You did know that, right? Sheesh. And you called me a chauvinist.) I know, I know, my dear and faithful reader — I’m the guy who authored the modern vinophile classic “An Ode to my Coravin,” I know that. I know. But things change, don’t they? We learn and we have new experiences and we grow. I’m not breaking up with my Coravin just yet, but I think maybe we need a break. I’d like the freedom to date other corkscrews for a while, maybe even have a wild fling with a sabrage. If these don’t fill the void, well then, maybe I’ll be back. If they do, well, maybe we were just never as good together as I wanted us to be.
Cheers to always learning, to reevaluating, and to trying new things,